Lyric Essay is a contemporary creative nonfiction form which combines qualities of poetry, essay, memoir, and research writing, while also breaking the boundaries of the traditional five-paragraph essay. As a genre unto itself, the lyric essay tends to combine conventions of many different genres.
Proponents of the lyric essay classification insist it differs from prose poetry in its reliance on association rather than line breaks and juxtaposition.
The lyric essay is a hybrid form, combining formal aspects of poetry and prose. Lyric essays are unique in their reliance on form. Two types of lyric essay forms exist: found form and invented form. Found form borrows the form of an external frame, such as footnotes, indexes, or letters (epistolary form), to bring about the meaning of the essay. Invented form can take any shape and organization which the writer creates to further communicate the essay. Some lyric essays take poetic forms, such as Anne Carson's "The Glass Essay," which is lineated and organized in tercets and quatrains. According to Mary Heather Noble, the lyric essay is open to exploration and experimentation, and allows for the discovery of an authentic narrative voice.
The lyric essay can take on any theme or topic, often containing what Lia Purpura calls "provisional responses," as opposed to certitude. The lyric essay can contain arguments, but typically subversive or subversively argued ones. Lyric essays often rely on research and references, and can be interdisciplinary in their research methods and content. Lyric essays often consist of conversational digressions, due to its lack of a restrictive form. Some lyric essays include vignettes, such as Maggie Nelson's Bluets.
Polyvocality and code-switching play a major role in the lyric essay. Both techniques allow for the lyric essay to be either very personal or to take a more objective tone. An example of this is found in Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, which the book's publisher classifies as both poetry and creative nonfiction—and is often referred to as work of lyric essays. Rankine code switches between highly personal, diaristic language and formal, academic language—as well as a variety of other types of language.
The most prominent publication focusing on the lyric essay is the Seneca Review under the editorships of Debora Tall and John D'Agata.
Notable lyric essayists
Wait a day or so and re-read your essay. Get your essay done a couple of days before the due date so that you have time to go back and revise it to make it polished. Avoid turning in a first draft that you haven't double-checked for errors.
Correct errors related to grammar, punctuation and spelling. Consult a style book if you are unsure how to properly use quotation marks, colons, semicolons, apostrophes or commas. Avoid using exclamation points.
- Look for mistakes involving than/then, your/you're, its/it's, etc. Make sure you know how to use apostrophes correctly.
- Look for mistakes involving general punctuation. Check for run-on sentences, commas and periods inside quotation marks, as well as sparely-used dashes, colons, and semi-colons.
- At the same time, try to keep your language short, sweet, and to the point. A thesaurus is a great tool, but don't just use big words to sound fancy. The best essays are clear, concise, and easily understood by a wide audience.
- Focus on writing killer verbs for sentences. Verbs communicate the action in a sentence and drive the action. A great verb can be the difference between a bland sentence and a beautiful one.
- Use adjectives lightly. Adjectives are great descriptive words, but when used indiscriminately, they can burden an essay and make it less readable. Try to let the verbs and nouns do most of the heavy lifting before you focus on adjectives.
Avoid colloquial (informal) writing. Do not use contractions or abbreviations (e.g., don't, can't, won't, shouldn't, could've, or haven't). Your essay should have a serious tone, even if it's written in a light or lyrical style.
- When events happen in sequence: I first started to realize that I was in the minority when I was in middle school...My realization was confirmed when I proceeded to high school.
- If sentences elaborate on each other: Plants need water to survive...A plant's ability to absorb water depends on the nutrition of the soil.
- When an idea contrasts with another idea: Vegetarians argue that land is unnecessarily wasted by feeding animals to be eaten as food...Opponents argue that land being used for grazing would not be able to be used to create any other kind of food.
- If you're relaying a cause and effect relationship: I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college...I am inspired to continue my family's progress through the generations.
- When connecting similar ideas: Organic food is thought to be better for the environment . . . local food is believed to achieve the same goals.
Cut information that's not specifically related to your topic. You don't want your essay to ramble off-topic. Any information that doesn't directly or indirectly support your thesis should be cut out.
Have someone read your paper aloud to you, or record yourself reading it aloud and play it back. Your ears are sometimes better than your eyes at picking up mistakes in language. The essay should sound like it has a good flow and understandable words.
Rewrite any problematic body passages. If needed, rearrange sentences and paragraphs into a different order. Make sure that both your conclusion and introduction match the changes that you make to the body.